Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Orioles Victory Card Number Twenty-Six: The high mark of the season

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 26: 8-7 over the California Angels

1991 Topps Desert Shield Mark Williamson

With the sporting world on hold due to the novel coronavirus shutting down the world for a few months we here at The Hopeful Chase are going to our rain delay programming. For the last two seasons we've posted a baseball card following every Baltimore Orioles victory (I know, talk about the minimum commitment required). It's fun and keeps us writing about baseball and collecting. Rather than sit back and stare forlornly at the outside world we've decided to continue the series with a season from the past.  The season of choice - 1987. Please enjoy.

I hate to ruin the ending for you, but the 1987 Baltimore Orioles did not win the World Series. I'll give you a moment to recover... Not only that, but by the time August rolled around they wouldn't even be in contention. June is not a very good month for them (hence the reason I've dragged out the last few victories). However, on this night in May of 1987 it seemed all things were possible, and perhaps after a few years of laying dormant Orioles Magic had returned to Memorial Stadium.

This game started out nice enough for the Orioles, a few home runs early built a 5-1 lead and with Mike Boddicker on the hill, it should have been all over. Unfortunately, the Orioles ace faltered and wasn't able to make it out of the sixth inning. The Angels chipped away at the lead and tied it in the top of the ninth with a home run by Wally Joyner off of Ken Dixon who failed to pick up his sixth save of the season.

Dixon was almost tagged as the loser in the tenth when he surrendered a run-scoring single to Gary Pettis. However, Mike Young, who had been scuffling since returning from the injured list earlier in the month, led off the Orioles half of the inning with his first home run of the year. 

In the twelfth inning, the recently recalled Mark Williamson was able to entice Pettis into hitting a one-out ground ball to second base with two runners on. Instead of turning a conventional double play by throwing to shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr, Rick Burleson tried to tag the runner heading from first to second. That didn't work and the Angels scored a run while the O's were trying to catch Dick Schofield in a rundown. 

Poor execution of a routine play should lead to a loss. For the O's, who had been skating out of tough situations for the last two weeks, they had a little bit of luck left. Lee Lacy led off the bottom of the twelfth with a walk. Down 7-6, Mike Young stepped up to the plate and tried to lay down a bunt on the first pitch. He failed. Same thing on the second pitch. Another failure. Down 0-2, Young tried a different approach - he hit a walk-off home run. 

For the O's it was their sixth home run of the game and their 56th in the month of May (a Major League record) and they had their sixth win in a row as well as their fifth straight come-from-behind victory. They moved into a virtual tie with the Blue Jays for second place, just four games behind the Yankees. 

Unfortunately, this would be the high-water mark of the season for the team. Six games over .500 (26-20) would be the best record they would sport for the rest of the season. Within ten days they would be at .500. By the end of June they would be a remarkable 15 games UNDER .500 and 17 games behind. In the days before the wild card, their season was all but over. 

Of course, no one knew that at the time. For now, the future was looking good, the home runs would never stop and the pitching, patchwork as it might be, would be enough to keep them in contention (pay no attention to the fact that they had three rookies in the rotation and their current set of relievers had blown 14 of 24 save opportunities. Nah, that wasn't a giant red flag at all. 

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